Hyped-up, fast-paced filmmaking has become the norm—Mad Max: Fury Road, this year’s Oscar winner for editing, packs 2,700 cuts into its two-hour runtime. But even by George Miller’s standards, Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin’s turbo-charged videos are excessive. Most shots don’t last more than half a second, and, in the rare cases when they do, the camera is in constant motion. The work rarely contains a plot. Sexually and morally ambiguous characters simply jabber on about nothing in nondescript spaces that mirror the environments Fitch and Trecartin have constructed for the viewers to immerse themselves in the work. These environments often include bland household furniture installed in odd ways, a sly subversion of a home theater, providing a contrast to the artists’ frenetic style. Onscreen, there’s always too much and too little going on, but that’s the point. These videos are about being distracted.
In four new videos on view now at Andrea Rosen, Fitch and Trecartin use split screens, superimpositions, jump cuts, digital distortions, and other techniques to heighten viewers’ short attention spans. Computer-generated images of animals also appear, with no apparent shred of logic. The new videos are heavy on nonsensical banter about drinking, bodily functions, and suffering general boredom. All of this is fairly standard for Fitch and Trecartin, but they also go in a new direction, transplanting their characters into nature. Or, at least, some strange approximation of nature. For whatever reason, camping is a unifying theme here, whether it’s done in-doors during an intoxicated slumber party, as is the case in most of the videos, or in a mosquito-bitten backyard.
Distraction, of course, remains the mise en scène. In a time when millions of videos on the Internet vie for users’ attention, I get the feeling that Fitch and Trecartin’s characters would much rather be checking their phones than doing anything else—including appearing in a Fitch and Trecartin video. In Mark Trade (2016), the titular protagonist, a drunken and off-putting man with long hair and oddly colored contacts, says, “This used to be a lake, but I can’t get any fucking service anywhere now.” The artists’ faithfulness to the Internet’s hysterical diversion renders the characters mysteriously underdeveloped.
Likewise, all of the videos are lavishly installed in rooms where few things make sense. Sound effects—the patter of rain, the whoosh of a breeze—created by an online generator play throughout the show, and gym mats and a makeshift bunk bed sometimes appear in the same room. There’s no binding theme, but it only adds to the show’s schizoid intensity.
In the most elaborate installation, titled Lake Anticipation (2016), a video called Temple Time appears in what looks like an upscale campsite, replete with two beanbags, oddly designed chairs, real trees, and empty hot-coal bins. The video has the clearest scenario of the four—it evokes a haunted-house reality show where ghost hunters look for supernatural activity in an abandoned Masonic temple. A Blair Witch Project knockoff video in which computer-generated weasels seem to be supernatural creatures, it features little true horror, but is unnerving, no less.
Digital technology rarely appears in these works, but it always has an implicit presence. Just as these characters seem not to notice the screeching, unseen ghosts in Temple Time, Internet users are too busy going from website to website to care about the insidious, invisible forces online—search algorithms, computer viruses, and surveillance systems. That’s always been a part of Fitch and Trecartin’s work, but never before has their dialogue with their cultural milieu been so mature. Whereas in the past the sinister side of our obsession with technology has been either too much at the forefront or too obscure, the artists have now struck a balance between confounding chit-chat and heady critique. And, like any good viral video, you want to see these new works again and again, looking for information you may have missed the first time.
VIDEO: ©RYAN TRECARTIN/COURTESY ANDREA ROSEN GALLERY, NEW YORK AND REGEN PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES